Sunday 31 July 2011

Words of Wisdom from an NZ Legend

I decided to really add some substance to my content by stepping back into an era of NZ table tennis history where we had some players committed to competing on an international stage. For most of us Barry Griffiths is just a name etched on titleholder boards, but from the stories I had heard Barry was a super hero in the sport in New Zealand winning 8 New Zealand Open Mens Titles and in 2009 gaining induction into the TTNZ Hall of Fame. I hope you enjoy this interview, Barry has given some thoughtful and informative answers.

Full Name: Barry John Griffiths
Date Of Birth: 29th February 1964
Nation represented: New Zealand
Highest World Ranking: 124

Left: Peter Jackson Gold Medalist, Right: Barry Griffiths Silver Medalist
1988 North Island Championships Open Mens Singles Event
Photo Courtesy of Table Tennis New Zealand.

Equipment Used?
Blade: Can’t remember – something like Butterfly Power Drive. Probably because it was sponsored. But, I was a Yasaka/Stiga sponsored player and my blade of choice was a Butterfly blade. I really liked it.
FH Rubber: Mark V – fast, spinny and had good grip for shots requiring severe angles.
BH Rubber: Yasaka Do – this was a Japanese rubber, similar to Chinese Friendship rubber. Not that fast, but amazing grip on the ball, which allowed severe bat angles to be used. When trying those shots with Sriver, the ball would slide off the bat. This style of rubber really suited my backhand.

Your Career

Who did you play table tennis for, when and how did you start?

I started playing table tennis at home. We had the only table in the street and all the other kids would come and play. They were all better than me, but I played every morning before school with my father and eventually caught up. Our school entered a competition at the Auckland Stadium and our team, with players entirely from our street, won.

From there I started playing tournaments and then made Auckland junior teams. I had a breakthrough at the NZ Champs in 1979 winning U16 singles, doubles and mixed and then U18 singles, doubles & mixed. I gained a lot of confidence from this and developed an all round attacking game from both wings, which proved effective.

I played for Auckland for many years, but after a dispute with Auckland administrator, David Jackson, left to play for Counties. I played the rest of my career for Counties with Geoff Rau, Kevin Barry and Alan Pedley – all top 10 players.

What was the highlight of your table tennis career?
I had many highlights, but the single most memorable match was in the Under 16 NZ Champs against Australian, Gary Haberl. There was an Australian Team playing the NZ Champs and a lot of betting was organised for this match. Haberl was a tough player and was leading the deciding 3rd game 20 – 14 (6 match points). The Aussies went to collect their bets, but I clawed back a couple of points and eventually made my way to 18 -20 down. Haberl then misread a serve to make it 19 -20, at which point I knew I had won. I have never heard such noise from a crowd before and hit 3 clean forehand winners in a row. Haberl couldn’t believe it and the Aussies were heading for the exit in a real hurry…

Other highlights include beating the Nigerian team at the Commonwealth Champs. They had one of their strongest teams ever and Malcolm Temperley was our surprise star winning all 3 matches against them. I chipped in with a win over Atanda Musa (Commonwealth Mens Singles Champ), while Peter Jackson beat Francis Sule.

In 1980, at age 16, beating reigning Australian singles champ Bob Tuckett was a huge highlight and I made it to the final, losing to Paul Pinkewich who was in his prime and a very tough opponent.

Then in 1987/88 winning the NZ Champs, Aus Champs and Oceania Champs was probably the peak of my table tennis standard.

How do you feel the game has changed playing now from when you played yourself? More specifically what is it do you think that allowed a higher standard of players in New Zealand in your era as a Senior Representative than those in our teams now?
Table Tennis hasn’t changed much at all. The differences I see in NZ players is the lack of short play, which would allow a good player to claim the initiative too easily. Also, many players seem one dimensional trying to play high speed. I see them struggling when an opponent changes the pace and spin on the ball.

There seemed to be greater depth in the past, with a strong top 10 and a solid standard down to around 20. There was also a greater variety of players ranging from choppers like Graham Lassen and Dave Hall, to blockers/counter-attackers like Malcolm Temperley, James Morris and Alan Pedley. These players forced you to work hard for your points and build rallies rather than to go for outright winners. Also, their return of serve was much tighter. So, in general, it required more work to win the point, which developed higher standards.

Who was your biggest rival out on the table in your career?
In NZ, my biggest rivals were Malcolm Temperley, in the early part of my career and Peter Jackson in the latter part. In Australia, it was always Gary Haberl, one of the most tenacious competitors I’ve ever faced.

I noticed you paid a visit down to the Oceania Championships in April last year, what did you think of William Henzell's game?
I really liked Henzell’s game. I suppose that’s natural because that’s almost exactly how I played. I found it interesting that when he struck a bit of trouble in the final he slowed the pace of his forehand and his Australian opponent mistimed a lot of blocks. Smart play from Henzell.

You enjoy playing tennis nowadays, what does tennis have that table tennis lacks?
Tennis is easier with almost no spin. It’s slower, the movements are smoother and timing of the ball is easier. Because tennis is slower, the rallies are longer and it’s just fun to play an outdoor sport. It’s also easier to watch because spin and big 3rd ball attack can make table tennis a poor spectacle at times.

Most young players like myself have never seen you play a match, tell us a little bit about your game style and how you liked to play.

I used to attack from both wings, but focused on attacking at around 80% speed. I did this to allow recovery time for my next shot. My thinking was to attack hard enough to keep the initiative and control the rally. Many times, my opponents would try to counter-attack some of these shots, which was a low percentage play. Generally, I let them do it, confident the odds were in my favour.

I also liked to return serve short, where possible or deep into my opponent’s crossover to limit their attacking options. Often followed up by a block punch wide and then counter attack.

I was always happiest playing consecutive backhand or forehand loops and felt confident in these rallies.

You won the New Zealand Mens Open title 8 times, do you think you could come back and win it again given the current standard of players in NZ?

I think I would have a chance, particularly last year… Not sure if my body would hold up though.

Barry's induction into the TTNZ Hall of Fame at the TTNZ 75th Jubilee, Whangarei 2009.
Photo Courtesy of Table Tennis New Zealand.
What do you believe table tennis needs to raise its profile in New Zealand?
Publicity and specific target markets such as schools, Asian community, social, etc. Table Tennis associations need to be organised on the publicity side, which requires hard work and commitment, but is very achievable. It’s important to remember that media outlets do not want to spend time or money covering Table Tennis, so it must be made easy for them. For newspapers and radio we did the following:

Media cut off times were often around the 4pm mark, so we started featured events early in the morning, with all finals completed around 3 – 3:30pm. This also guaranteed crowds as other events continued into early evening.

A media officer phoned through results to radio stations and were often broadcast on sports news.

A media officer (in our case, Geoff Rau) wrote articles about the tournaments, etc for the newspapers, which were accepted, edited and then published.

Basically, we had to spoon feed the information to the media and make it as easy as possible for them.

Other options include website info with articles and results. Also, links to uploaded videos of matches. People like this and it’s easy to follow.

Off the Topic Questions

Who’s your favourite sportsperson of all time?
Favourite, I don’t know.
Table Tennis would be Waldner – a true genius.
In tennis I’m a big Federer fan – I just love the way he plays the game and his attitude.
Cricket would be Tendulkar – very elegant.

Favourite food?
Shabu Shabu. This is a Japanese food made with thinly sliced premium beef cooked for a few seconds in boiling broth with vegetables. It is so tender…

Tennis or Table Tennis?
I still love table tennis, but it’s hard on the body and requires lots of training to maintain skill levels. Tennis is great, but I dislike the advantage a tall big server has. Why do they get 2 serves anyway? If they can’t get one in they should lose the point…

Dream Car
I’m not really a car guy, so never really thought about it. But, I’d love a flying car or jet pack. They’re not that far away now.

Ideal holiday destination?
omewhere warm with a tennis court and swimming pool and ideally no internet access or phone lines. It would also definitely need a bar.

First thing you would do if you won $1million?
Phone up the tennis guys and go to the pub. These tennis guys were all table tennis guys – Hagen Bower, Kevin Barry and Aaron Winborn

Your Team Mates
I’m not sure if this is a question, but I had a lot of team mates:

Hagen Bower – talented cunning and loves a post match drink.
Kevin Barry – POWERFUL and loves a post match drink.
Aaron Winborn – Loves a post match drink.

Table Tennis:
Richard Lee – great player on his day. Always wanted the best for his team.

James Morris – gritty player.

Graham Lassen – astonishingly erratic for a defender. You never knew how he was going to play.

Malcolm Temperley – a nightmare opponent with reflexes like a cat. Always tough.

Peter Jackson – a great team player who was always at his best when the team needed him.

Geoff Rau – solid if he could control his nerves.

Kevin Barry – excelled in team matches. I loved having Kevin in my team.

Alan Pedley – very steady.

Tony Radford – a talented player who gave his teammates many heart attacks.

Maurice Burns – a legend with a forehand to die for.

Who was the most reputable player you beat in your career?

Probably Atanda Musa, from Nigeria. Watanabe from Japan in the Aus Open in 1988 was also a good win. I had some good wins in training, which don’t count, but includes Jiang Jialiang (when he was World Champion) and also Stellan Bengtsson.

Jiang Jialiang winner of the 1985 and 1987 World Championships

Who trained the hardest in the training hall?

Kiyoshi Saito, from Japan, was an incredible trainer who would do 45 minutes of forehand only footwork at a time and just never tired. Stellan Bengtsson also trained very hard. I didn’t train with any of the top Chinese players, but reputedly they were amazing.

Who’s was the funniest team player?
I think we probably had 2 of the funniest players in Malcolm Temperley and Graham Lassen. Graham did so many strange things and occasionally would just start laughing in a very infectious way. I think one piece of coaching advice he gave to Geoff Rau was pretty funny. Geoff was playing one of the top players in the Commonwealth and had just lost the first game around 21 – 2 or something like that (apologies, Geoff). He came to the bench and got advice from Graham. I heard a little chuckle from Geoff and he went out to play the second game feeling a bit more relaxed. Geoff was still getting thrashed about halfway through when I asked Graham what advice he gave Geoff. Graham said he gave something to aim at, but doubted Geoff’s ability to do it. A few more losing points went by and I asked Graham what he told Geoff to aim at. Graham said “The other side of the table” and promptly fell off his seat laughing and remained on the floor laughing until the match was over… Poor Geoff!

Malcolm’s humour was a bit different. He was just plain different. When we had to play Nigeria he refused to leave the hotel saying he was unwell. The trouble was we had no reserve. He eventually turned up just before being defaulted and proceeds to lead the first game against Musa, which nobody could believe, especially Musa. Then during a crucial point Musa prepares to serve, but can’t see Malcolm, who has gone under the table to pound his bat into the floor. Musa bends down and has a look and Malcolm tells him his counterweight has come loose. Musa was not amused and hammers a 3rd ball forehand to Malcolm who smashes it for a clean winner. Next point Musa hammers another forehand to the other side and Malcolm punch blocks another clean winner. Poor Musa had no idea what to do and Malcolm arrogantly finished him off as if he was giving a kid a lesson. I’ve never seen anything like it…

Who had the best nickname?
Aaron Winborn’s nickname is ‘Donkey’. I won’t say any more about that one…

And Lastly

Would you like to add one last tip, or an inspirational message for other table tennis players looking to succeed?

Train hard, but with purpose. Always train with a strategy for a match. When playing a match visualise the type of rally you want to create, then follow it through. Always think 2 shots ahead in every rally.

If in doubt think of the most awkward place you can position the ball. If you can’t get an obvious advantage, then make it as awkward for your opponent as possible.

Finally, ignore your opponent’s reputation. Play to a plan and apply the pressure without thinking about your opponent. If they’re going to beat you, make sure they have to work hard to do it. It’s amazing the shots a great opponent can miss when you continue applying pressure to them.

An amazing interview by any accounts, thanks Barry for taking the time to continue inspiring table tennis players in New Zealand.

Saturday 30 July 2011

Final Day of NZ Junior Table Tennis Championships 2011

I was fortunate enough to venture up to North Harbour for the day today to check out the final day of the Junior Nationals tournament, was great to see some good friends there for the day and to watch some good matches. After his intense performance winning the Under 18 event the evening prior it was up to NZ National Mens Champion Roger Rao to sweep the singles title for the Under 15 boys also, overcoming Dominic Huang of Australia in the final 3-1 and sister Ruofei Rao to beat Samantha Ong also 3-1 in the Under 15 girls final.

The Under 15 Boys Doubles Final saw a spectacular show with Auckland's pairings clashing head to head. The team of Daniel Lowe and Xu Ning taking a 2-0 lead against team mates and opposition pairing Roger Rao and Victor Ma who fought off the onslaught of Lowe and Ning to take the match into a 5th set. After some incredible rallies and amazing play, Lowe and Ning converted their 14th match point to take the match and claim the title, an incredible effort by both sides.

Siblings Roger and Ruofei Rao in the Under 15 Mixed Doubles Event

The Under 15 Girls Doubles title was claimed by Auckland Sophia Dong and Ruofei Rao who carefully dispatched of Canterbury's Ola Ratka and Juliana Hung 3-1. The Mixed Title was a rivalry of siblings, though not with each other for once! The pair of Roger and Ruofei Rao stormed the title in a 3-0 victory of Samantha and Jay Ong.

I managed to get a quick clip of this point to include with this info:

Dean Shu and Daniel Lowe lock horns. Dean coming back from a 2-0 deficit plays some spectacular table tennis and earns a place in the semi final of the Under 15 Boys Singles Event after an 11-5 victory in the 5th and final set.

Action continues!

Thursday 28 July 2011

The Evolution of Table Tennis

Table Tennis has been a sport which has had numerous changes over the decades in table and rubber colours, materials, ball sizes and scoring rules. Here is the evolution of table tennis from the early stages.

The Hardbat Era
With hard bats it's quite remarkable to see the speed they managed to produce when attacking, as you can see it was a gentleman's game they even wear trousers and the footwork is very interesting. There were some long rallies and a lot of attack and defence as it was harder to hit through the opposition. Without the sponge and grippy surface we have today, spin was not a major factor and placement and consistency were paramount.

1949 English Open Final: Victor Barna (GBR) vs Marty Reisman (USA)

The Sponge Era
Having evolved to better quality bats with sponge and grippy topsheets the game was a lot more entertaining and more sporty, check out the crowd. What a great rally too, the game was a lot more consistent on the backhand back then, the forehand was always the big weapon, this is a style which lasted well into the 80s and even players today still adopt it. As you can see the service rules don't apply yet and matches are best of 5 to 21 in these world events.

1978 European TT Champs Semi Final: Desmond Douglas vs Jaqcues Secretin

The Service Rules Begin
By now you will have noticed the introduction of a new service rule, the ball toss. The late 80s and 90s had introduced a strong entertainment value to table tennis and rallying was a big part of the game, we can tell this as service is still long on most occasions. Rubber had advanced and looping on the forehand was a big powerplay. Matches still best of 5 to 21 with 5 serves each.

1993 World Championships Final Saive vs. Gatien

End of the Speed Glue Era
2008 marked the end of an era for 'Speed Gluing' you can see the ridiculous amount of speed which the combination of new rubber technology and speed gluing had achieved as opposed to prior decades. Service rules now dictated that there must be a 14cm ball toss and that no part of the body must obstruct the path of the ball from vision of the opponent. This is one of my favourite matches as it is incredible to see Oh absolutely destroying one of China's best players. Matches are now best of 7 to 11 with 2 serves each. Also the ball size had increased from 38mm to 40mm marginally slowing the game down.

2008 Supercircuit Event: Oh Sang Eun (KOR) vs. Wang Hao (CHN)

Chinese Dominance Period Continues
The game now completely dominated by Chinese players has some incredible matches. The speed and footwork and technical aspects of the game are constantly being finetuned. Players have now begun to adapt to the speed glue free environment with new water based glues available. With strong tactical focuses and short serving and short play elemental in the game, looping on both wings is a major element of the game.

It's incredible to see how the game has changed over the last 50-60 years in terms of gameplay, equipment and rules. With plans in the pipeline to change the ball after the 2012 Olympics we can expect to observe more changes in the future!

2011 Chinese Super League: Ma Lin vs. Ma Long

The Plastic Generation
The latest instalment of changes to the game. The plastic ball. The celluloid ball is no more and has been replaced with a marginally larger, harder, plastic alternative. Less spin and speed produced to try and achieve longer rallies. Boosters are banned but undetectable and companies have begun to produce new rubbers with more porous sponges and even grippier topsheets to maximise speed and spin! The changes came into effect in mid 2014.

2015 World Championship Final, Ma Long - Fang Bo

Hope you enjoyed the timeline :)

Wednesday 27 July 2011

My TTDaily Interview with William Henzell

      Interview with Oceania's Best William Henzell

TableTennisDaily Interview

I was lucky enough to interview William Henzell recent winner of the Oceania Cup, 8 times Australian National Champion, 5 times Australian Open Champion and 3 times Oceania Champion. Having recently got to know William a little bit I can tell you all he is a very professional and humble athlete, very nice guy and very approachable. Thanks for the time William. Here is the interview below.

Image Courtesy of Adelaide Now:
Full Name:
William Henzell


Date Of Birth:
23 March 1982


Club represented:
Kalmar BTK (Sweden)
Lyckeby BTK (Sweden)
FC Tegernheim (Germany)

Highest World Ranking:

Equipment Used?

Blade: Yasaka Ma Lin Carbon
FH Rubber: Tenergy 05
BH Rubber: Tenergy 05

Your Career

How long have you been playing table tennis for, when did you start?
Since the age of 6, so 23 years now. I left home at 14 and moved to Sweden to make a go of table tennis. I stayed for 10 years before playing in Germany for two years and then relocating back to Australia before the 2008 Olympics.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
My parents have supported everything I’ve ever wanted to do in table tennis, including allowing me to ship out to Europe when I was 14!

Do you serve practice often?
Not often. I prefer to practice my serves in rally situations. I certainly don’t think service practice is a bad thing though and am planning to more of this when I move back to Europe later this year.

You’re a very successful table tennis player now, what do you feel has been your biggest achievement to date?
Winning silver in the men’s singles at the 2006 Commonwealth Games was huge for me personally. I had to walk out on my club contract to compete at the Games so I basically lost my job to compete there. I played the best table tennis of my life to beat players ranked a long way ahead of me.

I also played great at the 2008 Olympics, beating Jens Lundqvist and having chances to beat Wang Liqin and Yoon Jae-Young of South Korea.

Ok, maybe you don't like looking back to this but what was your biggest low in your career?
Losing the final of the men’s singles at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

Tell us about your new website
ttEDGE is an online table tennis coaching website that I’ve created with the help of fellow Australian national team member Robert Frank. The site has coaching videos, training exercises, match analysis videos and blogs. We use a lot of ultra-slow motion footage to get across what we’re trying to explain.

Are you looking forward to the 2012 Olympics?
My focus at the moment is solely on qualifying for the Olympics. I’m moving to Austria and the Werner Schlager Academy in September to spend 5 months preparing for the qualifying. 2 players qualify from Oceania (Australia, New Zealand, Pacific islands) for the singles and I want one of those spots.

What's your view on the Chinese dominance at the moment; why are they so good do you believe?
Numbers and dedication. If you’ve got millions of people who are desperate enough to do whatever they can to succeed then you’ve got a winning recipe. Most other countries rely on a handful of players who are serious enough to do what it takes.

How do you train on the mental aspects of the game? Do you find this side of the game is just as important as the technical parts?
It is and I think that table tennis players, coaches and clubs put too little effort into this in general. I’m working on a few things at the moment but could dedicate more time and effort to the area.

What impact has playing in Oceania had on your table tennis, how do you train to compete at a level higher than the Oceania standard?
It isn’t easy. I don’t get the level of competition that I used to in Europe. I used to lose matches all the time in Europe which forces you to evolve and come up with solutions on your feet. I might lose just 1 or 2 matches per year in Oceania and that restricts my development. And I know most of the top players games inside out here so I don’t have to adjust to unfamiliar situations enough. I try to keep my training levels up and focus on technical weaknesses in my game.

Who's the toughest opponent you have ever overcome in a match?
I’ve had a 20-year rivalry with Simon Gerada from Australia and we’ve been number 1 and number 2 in everything we’ve done from Under 11’s to seniors. The matches are all about getting the upper hand mentally so it’s more a psychological battle than anything else.

What is the most memorable match you have ever played?
The match against Wang Liqin at the 2008 Olympics will stay with me. I was playing really well and was leading 1-0 and 7-1. During the 2nd set, the normally so loud Chinese crowd went almost completely quiet and was an eerie silence throughout the hall.

What is your advice to the many forum readers around the world about how to achieve their goals as table tennis players?
Get as much good coaching and advice as you can. Looking back at my career, I realise that I didn’t always have the best help and advice, which cost me years in development.
A match of William's I really enjoyed watching from the 2007 Swedish Open
William beats Japan's Koji Matsushita in a well controlled and tactical match! 

Off the Topic Questions

Who’s your favourite sportsmen of all time?
I don’t watch sport often as I much, much prefer to be playing than watching.

Favourite film?
Donnie Darko was good. I like Lord of The Rings as well.

What car do you drive?
No interest in cars so it’s a ’92 Nissan Pulsar.

What’s your favorite music?
Temper Trap right now.

What do you do in your spare time other than table tennis?
Table tennis takes up almost all my time – working and spare! Working on has been very rewarding but equally demanding. I do collect wine in my spare time.

Do you eat well or eat junk?
Well. Eating junk makes me feel like crap.

PS3 or XBOX 360?
I used to have a 360 but just don’t have any time these days.

Your Team Mates

Who’s the funniest player in the training hall?
Boajn Tokic from Slovenia provided endless entertainment during the two years I was training at Frickenhausen in Germany.

Who trains the hardest in the training hall?
I try extremely hard at training and always try to get the most out of it. I remember Patrick Baum being a very hard trainer and deserves all his recent success.

Who’s the funniest team player?
In Germany, I had 3 Serbian guys in my team (FC Tegernheim) – Rade Markovic, Boris Vukelic and Bojan Milosevic. All crazy, all hilarious.

Who has the best nickname?
Mark Smythe from Australia (former top player and now coach) is nicknamed ‘Duck’. If you see him walk you’ll understand – he actually waddles!

And Lastly

And lastly, thanks very much for your kindness in taking part in this interview for all the members of the Table Tennis Daily forum to learn and know more about the life of a professional player.

Would you like to add one last tip, or an inspirational message to us all?
I’d like everyone reading this to get a picture in their mind of a recent match they won and played well in. That feeling of satisfaction is hard to beat and I know it provides me all the motivation I need to get out on the table and practice every day. You get back out what you put in.

Good luck in your next competition


Matt Hetherington and the Table Tennis Daily Staff

Thanks Will, gotta get some media from down here up there and you are without doubt the perfect candidate. Best of luck for in the leadup to Olympic Qualifications! :)